A Guide To The Different Types Of Nursing Degrees

A guide to the different types of nursing degrees

There are numerous routes to a career in nursing, ranging from certificate programs to doctoral degrees.

With so many different types of nursing degrees available, it’s critical to understand how each program works so you can find the right one for you. Making an informed decision, whether you’re a recent high school graduate, an experienced professional, or a career changer, requires weighing each option against your goals, financial resources, and lifestyle.

At least initially, the degree you pursue determines which level of nursing you will eventually enter. You will position yourself for success in the rewarding field of nursing by selecting a program that meets your personal and professional goals.

We’ve compiled a list of the various types of nursing degrees available, as well as what they entail in terms of program content, length of time, and job potential.

Nursing degree paths

What you can do with your degree and how long each level of nursing takes


CNA certificate or diploma

certified nursing assistant (CNA) certificate is a non-degree diploma offered at community colleges and vocational schools. Both classroom and online options are available, though all clinical hours must be performed in person at an approved location.

As a CNA student, you’ll learn how to provide basic healthcare services and help patients with their daily activities. Other duties typically include:

Necessary precautions, personal care skills, and infection control are all covered in the curriculum. You can also earn voluntary certification in specialized areas such as psychiatry or geriatrics to broaden your employment options.

Who is it intended for?

CNA certification is intended to get students into the nursing field as soon as possible. Prerequisites differ by program, but the majority require a high school diploma or GED.

If you fall into one of the following categories, a CNA certificate may be right for you:

  • Recent high school graduates seeking a nursing career but unable to attend a traditional college program
  • Future nurses who want to gain experience before applying to a more advanced nursing program can do so.
  • Career changers interested in exploring the various opportunities in healthcare
  • Parents, caregivers, and those with other obligations that necessitate a flexible schedule


Length of time

A CNA certificate is the quickest path to an entry-level nursing position.

While state requirements vary, federal guidelines for CNA certificate programs require at least 75 hours of education, with at least 16 hours of supervised clinical training.

The majority of CNA programs can be completed in four to twelve weeks.

What you can do with this certificate

You’ll be eligible to take your state’s CNA competency exam after earning a state-approved certificate. With certification, you can apply for jobs working with patients under the supervision of a licensed practical nurse or registered nurse, depending on your state’s laws.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of nursing assistants—roughly 37%—work in nursing care facilities such as skilled nursing facilities (BLS). Other potential employers include:

  • Hospitals
  • Continuing care retirement communities
  • Assisted living facilities for the elderly
  • Home healthcare services

LPN/LVN diploma or certificate

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) certificate is a non-degree diploma that is available at vocational schools, community colleges, and, in some cases, hospitals. This position is known as a licensed vocational nurse in Texas and California (LVN).

Both LPN and LVN programs prepare you to work under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and perform the following key duties:

  • Obtain vital signs
  • Please report any patient conditions.
  • Change bandages and insert catheters
  • Assist with procedures, tests, and sample collection.
  • Medication and injections must be administered.
  • Enhance patient comfort
  • Along with clinical applications, you will learn about general medical topics such as anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and emergency care. There are also specialty certifications available in IV therapy, long-term care, pharmacology, and breastfeeding support.

An LPN/LVN certificate is for students who want to enter the nursing field but do not want to invest the time and money in a college degree. Unlike a CNA diploma, the LPN certificate represents mastery of a broader body of knowledge. LPNs and LVNs are qualified to supervise CNAs in many states.

If you fall into one of the following categories, an LPN/LVN certificate may be right for you:

Recent high school graduates seeking a nursing career but unwilling to commit to a traditional college degree
CNAs who are eager to broaden their responsibilities and job opportunities
Career changers who cannot afford the time away from work to complete a college degree
Prospective nurses who are preparing to enter a registered nursing program

Many LPNs eventually go on to earn advanced degrees. Because of this, it’s important to earn an LPN/LVN certificate from an accredited nursing program. In many cases, credits earned in a nonaccredited program won’t be eligible for transfer to a higher degree.


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